Rockumentary | Tour | Music | Pictures | Gig Diary | Press | The Boys | Chain CD | Store | Press Kit |


Henning Ohlenbusch - Songs, Guitar, and Singing

How does a half german, half danish, lanky freak end up in School for the Dead? Well, it is a long and tiresome tale, riddled with incongruencies and lies. Enjoy

It's first grade in hilly Andover, Massachusetts sometime in the 1970's. There are shadows all around, the hallway floor slants, a classroom shrieks. In the distance, surrounded by angels and protected by a tiny giraffe, a little boy with an Incredible Hulk T-shirt stands hovering two or three inches above the floor. Nobody notices. In walks Henning, eyes still red from crying, shoes stained from Melissa Label's rejected breakfast, someone is in his chair. It might be Amy Gallant.





Minutes later it's ninth grade and Russell no longer wears the Hulk line. But he is aware of nerd, Henning, and he doesn't like him one bit.

A few years later find the two of them, popular outcasts, writing a song about Viking Death Rats, in Henning's tiny off-the-kitchen yellow room. This song has nothing to do with The Shrugs or The Purple Stars Sound. But you might hear it weeks later in their extended liberal arts course called Odyssey.

At the same time Lady Winter is humbled by two freakish sojourners. Henning and friend Jim Astbury walk endlessly in the frigid night air with Jim's tiny boom box at their sides. Suzanne Vega, REM, Steely Dan, Roger Waters, Ultravox, Syd Barrett, and Micheal Hedges go along with them wherever they go. The River, the Rail Road, The Factory. Friendly's.

It's the late 80's now. Henning moves away to The University of Massachusetts about 100 miles west. His co-op hippie dorm embraces him but he does not turn hippie. He rooms with high school friend and agitator Lee Rosenstubble, and begins to take shape. It's not long before Russell arrives, he isn't enrolled in the school but that doesn't stop him from moving in to the dorm surruptitiously. There is music everywhere, seems that there always was. (Not long after, Brian Todd basks unknowngly in the echoes that Henning and Russell left behind, as he also, moves into Butterfield Dorm). Henning sits in the audience at a coffee house / open mic and enjoys the music of a young spindly Anthony Westcott, who plays "Hell of a Guy" and "Complete Bastard." Henning thinks, "That's the kind of songs I like to write, who is this guy?"

A few years behind an old Farmhouse in a decrepid barn, Russell and artist Steve Busch lead Henning with an oil lantern on a haunted and terrifying tour of things to come. A year in the farmhouse filled with recording and composing and performing and exploring, causes Henning to return back to school, this time for music and the recording of it, Russell escapes to Hawaii.

Four years have past and Henning and Russell have returned from their seperate spiritual journeys. Henning starts sleeping on Russell's roach infested just-above-the-bar apartment. They kidnap and take over a band called Funnilingus. They find a better apartment. Although popular for it's shows, Funnilingus is clearly a dead-end street. They shed their clown make-up, step-out of their electric costumes and join up with everybody's favorite drummer, Brian Todd. And The Aloha Steamtrain is born. But let's go back a again a little.

Henning enjoys music.

Maybe it started in 4th grade with the piano lessons. My brothers were taking them, too. And we practice in the basement on the old black mess of a piano that we had. Piano lessons didn't last too long for me or for Norbert but Alvin devoured them and learned more than me and Norb combined, in half the time. That didn't stop us from banging on the higher and lower keys while Al played tunes by Abba and Neil Diamond.

Maybe it started when Norb performed his Machine-Gun antics along with the drum break in Frankenstein by The Egdar Winter Group. Later it was all the XTC and Lou Reed that was eminating from his room. And when I was just learning guitar it didn't hurt to have Norb play Suzanne Vega's Small Blue Thing about eighty times in a row.

Alvin, meanwhile, had learned to play every part to every song by Yes, Genesis, Marillion, and Ultravox along with countless songs by REM, Pink Floyd, and Kate Bush. I decided it was time for me to learn the guitar. But I still only knew a few chords on the keyboard.

That was enough to start a band with friends, Herb and Gary Wang and Lee Wilkinson. Herb taught me that its possible to write songs. And the first thing we did as a band was to start to record them. Herb is one of the world's great unheard song writers and I learned just about everything I know from him. He taught me how to play bass and how to record four tracks with two tape decks, too. I played a casio keyboard until I bought my first keyboard, my Korg Poly-800 for 600 bucks. Lee played a toy drum set and used a kitchen waste basket for a snare. And we recorded a record. Or a cassette anyway. We went by the name Secular Humanism but soon changed it to The Shrugs (slackers before our time).

The Shrugs recorded 5 albums: Secular Humanism, So Now What, The Alvin Project, Lack Depth, and Hoedown all on 4-track cassette. Nobody but our friends and family have ever heard them. Over all this time, we only played three live shows: Two at Phillips Academy in Andover, and one at Dartmouth College. And that was it.

When I went off to The University of Massachusetts in Butterfield I began playing the guitar about 6 hours a day. Not practicing it, just playing it. Writing songs and playing songs by REM, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul Simon, and They Might Be Giants. This is when I started performing on my own at Coffehouses in the dorm basement. I listen to some tapes now and I admire my fellow dorm mates for sitting through my singing. I also began playing acoustic rock operas with my friend and writer Derek Leif. These rock operas became dorm favorites and I began to feel like I could entertain people for real.

All this time I was recording my own albums on the 4-track, playing all the instruments and writing all the songs. My albums now include: Henning's Self-Promotional Tape, The Farmhouse Henmasters, The Search For Rub Wrongways, Big Plans For Underachievers, Henning's School For The Dead, and Looks Like I'm Tall. On top of those I have about 90 million little songs and doodles trapped somewhere on 4-Track Cassettes.

So, when I started school at Umass Lowell as a recording student I already had some ideas about how I like things to sound. As a music major I started to learn to read music better, to sight sing, to compose in classical theory, and to lose some stage fright by having to embarrass myself over and over again. I recorded a full album while at school, Big Plans For Underachievers, my best up to that date. And I started to realize that if they could get past my singing voice, people might actually enjoy my music, not just because they were my friends but because it could actually move them. It's not an easy thing to admit.

After moving to Northampton I started playing in Funnilingus and Humbert. When I first saw Humbert, Frank Paddalero of King Radio, Scud Mountain Boys fame, was their temporary bassist. After I saw them I said to myself, I said, "Henning, that's the kind of band I want to be in." About a week later Ari Vais, of Humbert, asked me if I would like to play bass for them. And so began a three year adventure in rock and roll. Ari and Tony Westcott had both been at Umass when I was and I recognized them both to be incredible songwriters. I had never considered myself a bassist but I picked it up pretty quickly and after a year we put out Humbert's second CD, my first, The Great White Lunchroom and I found that I had a local hit "The Screen Door". Humbert played all over the place in New England and NYC and our new album kind of sort of exists somewhere in someone's cd rack. I think it's Tony's.

But all this time The Aloha Steamtrain was the center of my concentration. Now, we have called it quits after almost 6 years. Six years of incredible expereiences. Recordings, Videos, and show after show after show. We were one of the most popular bands in the area and I doubt I will ever been in another band that could occasionalyl draw such a savage energy form the audiences. I learned so much in that band about what it is to be in a band and how to run one that now it is all second nature.

So, School for the Dead is now the center of attention, though I still play in The Fawns and the Gay Potatoes. This is the band for me, this one. School for the Dead. I love it.